My friend Chris, from Toronto, a healer himself, asked me to share what I learned from my shaman grandmother about the Igorots’ wisdom on healing — the understanding, the approach, the methods, the techniques, the processes, the rituals, and the results.
Thank you for asking, Chris.
I will try to answer your question the best possible way I could even though I’m well aware that my answer would be limited and very subjective according to my personal capacity to comprehend the Igorots’ worldview in general and in relation to how they view or deal with illnesses and healing in particular.
First of all, as I mentioned in my book, after caring for me since I was a babe, my grandmother died when I was about 10 years old. And when I was with her, she was already too old to be performing the healing rituals. So, I’ve not actually seen her perform a healing ritual. My knowledge of my grandma’s healing processes is from what I heard from my mother, elder siblings, and other people who have known her.
But more than the actual healing rituals, what she directly (consciously and subconsciously) imparted to me are, I think, even more valuable than the specific forms of healing rituals that she performed. She was, after all, not only an herbalist, a midwife, and a spirit medium but she was also a storyteller and a deep “contemplator” (what I’d like to call a philosopher). And this philosopher facet of her was what I chose to get from her as it deals more with ‘healing the mind’ than ‘healing the body’ — the former being my personal preference as a healer myself.
In my personal quest, I have discovered that to heal the mind is also to heal the body. Thus, the content of my book is more on shamanic philosophy rather than the usual shamanic healing that we are more familiar with.
WHAT CAUSES ILLNESS
Similar to other animistic cultures around the world, the traditional Igorot worldview holds the perspective that illness is almost always caused by supernatural factors. I think that this belief actually made a lot of sense for them at that time.
In a time where people consumed only organic foodstuff and lived simple, stress-free lives, and their bodies strong and sturdy, how could they blame chemical imbalances in their bodies to be the cause of diseases? It must have been displeased spirit-beings who made them ill!
Even an accident was not really an accident. For example, if someone had an “accident” and had hurt himself badly or got killed, it was believed that he might have done something displeasing to other beings. He might have transgressed a custom (rules and regulations to keep peace and order in pre-industrial societies). He might have displeased the nature-spirits by trespassing into their territory. He might have failed to give the spirits of dead ancestors their due. Or, he might have a conflict with another human and the latter did sorcery on him!
From what I gathered from the stories told, and through keen participatory observation and deduction, Igorot shamanic healing is done by considering the three aspects of a human being: body, mind, and spirit — the trinity.
The first is on the level of matter through the use of ‘chemistry’. Here we find the shaman’s use of herbs and other healing concoctions.
The second is on the aspect of metaphysics. Here is where storytelling and ‘consciousness or mind over matter’ comes in. The use of talismans and other sacred, energetically-charged objects to assist in what I call ‘mind tricking’ may also fall in this category.
Third is supernatural intervention. Spirit mediumship, dream interpretation, interpretations of signs/events, divination, chanting, praying and invocations may fall in this category.
All three aspects are wholly considered by the shaman emphasizing one aspect over another depending on the circumstances and needs of the patient.
Of course the people in my hometown would not simplistically categorize, label, or differentiate these three interwoven aspects. This is solely my attempt of systematization in order to ‘translate’ the complex nature of Igorot shamanic healing for the understanding of “outsiders” (sorry for my use of this barbaric term) and the general public.
The healing techniques of sucking, spitting, blowing (air) and yawning, accompanied by invocations and prayers, and perhaps the sacrifice of an animal or two may fall in all three categories of so-called aspects of the body-mind-spirit connection.
RESULTS OF HEALING
If what is meant by ‘results’ is if Igorot shamanic healing is effective or not, then here is what I know:
Just like in modern times with modern-trained doctors, hospitals, and even with advanced technologies, in shamanic healing, some illnesses get cured and some still not. The difference, I think, is that in shamanic healing, the approach is more holistic than the approach of many modern doctors. And this difference in approach may have a significant effect on the result. Having said that, however, still, Igorots believe that if every healing technique is done meticulously and yet a patient dies, it is simply because it’s the latter’s time to leave.
Needless to say, there are many various factors that contribute to the success or failure of a certain healing technique whether it be traditional shamanic healing or modern-western healing.
In today’s Igorot society, just like in religion wherein Christianity and animism are mixed, many people choose to subscribe to both systems of healing. They can go to a doctor and take modern medicine, and yet they may still consult a traditional healer and agree to conduct traditional healing rituals. Whatever works!
IS IT TRANSFERABLE?
Is Igorot shamanic healing transferable or applicable to non-Igorots?
The answer is both yes and no.
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine consulted me as she had been also consulted about the prospects of using Igorot ancient shamanic healing techniques in healing the traumas of American soldiers who fought in Iraq.
The Igorot shamanic system does include methods to heal traumas and mental depressions. In the distant past, after engaging in a battle, warriors were quarantined, processed and “cleansed” before they were allowed to go home to their families. This same processing and cleansing practice is applied to people who have witnessed, or were involved in tragic incidents. Even able-bodied rescuers who helped in rescuing people involved in tragic accidents had to undergo cleansing healing rituals.
But is the traditional Igorot system of healing trauma, depression, and other psychological disturbances transferable or applicable, for instance, to traumatized American soldiers?
The answer is no:
The Igorot traditional healing rituals are culture-specific and context-based. Performing the culture-specific rituals for an American soldier will not work as the ‘codes will not match’, so to speak. The rituals will makes sense to an Igorot who is keyed-in to the peculiarities of his culture, but not to an American who has a totally different orientation, programming, belief systems, and, ‘chromosomal configuration’.
The answer is yes:
Shamanism is a universal phenomenon. Before there were different world religions competing with each other, there was shamanism. Shamanism is humanity’s common ancient spiritual heritage. Although the forms of shamanic rituals and practices vary from society to society as shamanism is fluid, flexible, and adapted to the peculiarities of every social grouping, there is a common ‘golden’ thread that runs in the heart of all shamanic cultures. This is the core-essence of shamanism.
The core-essence of shamanism is independent of the different visual forms and culture-specific biases of the many shamanic healing techniques around the world. This core-essence is so fundamental that it transcends the differences in shamanic ritual forms.
This core-essence is what is transferable. The most fundamental codes within the ancient Igorot warrior and the modern American soldier, given the right conditions, will respond to this core-essence leading to the healing of both — notwithstanding their very different backgrounds, value systems, conditioning, and, so-called chromosomal configurations.
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As Chris had sent me a video of Ho’oponopono, an ancient Hawaiian healing technique, my next post will be on my take on this phenomenon.